Gas stations are one of my favorite places while on road trips. I can almost hear you frown, but wait.
Grab a chair and hear me out.
I’m not talking about the Exxon, smack in the middle of New York City. I’m all about a Sinclair, on a road to nowhere in the Wild West of Kansas or a Philips 66, on a road up the sea of corn fields of Iowa. When the transience of the scenery behind my windows is a bit too much, I need the anchor of a gas station. I need the 2$ coffee from the only person out and about, while the town ghosts have gone back to rolling in their grave. I do relish the eggs and toast of a cozy restaurant, but then there are times I indulge in a greasy, gas station sausage biscuit to start the day with.
I need the never ending roads to escape the monotony of people, I need the sparsely crowded gas stations to break the monotony of never ending roads.
When I’m speeding towards a spectacle of a city at the far end of the country, as the ghost towns pass by as a blur by the window, I dread the stories untold that pass by as well, I regret the miles I add up as I distance myself from the experiences never shared. I question my misguided whereabouts. What kind of a traveler I might become, if I fall for the lure of the beaten path?
The golden gate bridges and the lady liberties can wait, but Steve who just pulled over for an oil change, might not be around to show me directions to the Bibon swamp, his favorite place on the planet, hidden deep in the Wisconsin country side. Although it isn’t the same any more, he laments while closing his car bonnet, as it used to be, when his grandfather took him fishing in the swamp. If you think about it, it seems like no place is the same any more as it used to be. More often than not, it isn’t the place that changed.
If he didn’t have to be back on the road right away, I could have gotten more stories out of Rob about his good times in the Bay Area. I did get to know what’s the best Italian place in San Francisco. Or at least what was. His buddy was running the business. It’s a shame it’s closed permanently now. Rob hasn’t been back there in a while since he settled for the cold slopes of New Mexico. After having just witnessed what a fresh batch of an overnight snow flurries can do to the place, I dint question his choice.
The characters that play out the gas station episodes vary between extremes. Sometimes I need a dose of skepticism as I run into an over enthusiastic Claire, whose world’s best hiking trail is right in the Black Hills of South Dakota and then there are times I had to run away from an apathetic Wendy who had nothing to offer me but a pair of rolling blue eyes and a passive shrug, along with a pack of Cheetos as she swipes my card, mumbling about the run-down mining town in Montana where nothing much happens.
As I reminisce and fish my archived memories over the years to gather these stories, I end up hooking on not just lengthy stories but also these mental snaps that are scattered all over and pop out, of a great friend and wonderful road trip partner grinning ear to ear, holding a copy of a guide to motorcycling the mid-west that she just grabbed at the gas station store for me, of a dusty gas station that could as well be an oasis in the middle of miles and miles of a dustier canyon road as far I can see, a vague snap of me holding a chicken leg, sitting on the car bonnet at a gas station, with the dry summer winds ruffling my hair, as a setting sun lit up an entire valley below. I could not even put a geographic pin on a lot of these snaps. They are just there swirling around, without much details as to when and where, but reminding me of the good times, bringing me a smile now and then, when the road gets rough.
Speaking of gas stations, did I tell you about the time I was sprayed on and left soaking wet with gasoline? Guess that’s another story for another time, but you’ve been warned – the smell of gasoline sticks around forever.
To the road..